Meet Jannet Atika – Director of Customer Operations at Safaricom PLC. We had a word with her about why every business should have customer care as a top priority, and her progression through the ranks at Safaricom.
In November 2000, Jannet Atika joined Safaricom. There were less than 50 people when she joined and stepped into her role to manage the shops. The excitement was about GSM and how accessible mobile phones would become having been previously been seen as a status symbol due to the prohibitive cost (KES 200,000 upwards).
“I have progressed quite a bit since then. I became the operations manager for the nine shops we ended up opening and did that that for a good number of years. From there I became the channel expansion manager where my work involved going around the country, locating where we could have more of the shops, designing and installing them. We grew from nine shops to forty-eight across the country.” Ms Atika said.
After that she was promoted to the head of retail in 2012. She started managing operations in those shops and we went on to grow them from two to fifty-two. She then went to run the call center where she remains as the Director of Customer Operations.
Customer Service is not just a buzz word to employ but a globally proven business case where you can increase return on equity depending on how you handle your customers. This is where you can actually hold strong to the future of your business because once the customers really support you, your business will follow suit. And although there is a Customer Service Week commemorated every year, customer service shouldn’t just be left for that week but should continue throughout the year with the week to celebrate.
The evolution of this important business unit in Kenya and around the world is now technology led with AI and chatbots being embedded to make sure all mentions of the brand are seen and actioned as required. As far as Safaricom goes, the initial customer contact points were the call center (which started with less than fifteen people to 2,223 people now) and the shops. There are now self-service platforms, Zuri Chatbot, SMS, e-mail, Social Media and IVR. It’s up to the customer to choose which way to contact customer care.
“Safaricom holds one of the largest contact centers in East and Central Africa and maybe South of Sahara. We have one of the most intricate structures installed systems and even the sitting space itself. So, the evolution has been massive. If you come to our physical spaces, we have grown from a simple call center to a whole enterprise that has a creche’ so mothers can bring their babies, leave them there, work, pick them up and go home. The children will be cared for by nurses and doctors. The evolution has been real and it is exciting to talk about this.” Ms Atika said.
For the customer service team to excel, all other departments need to work in tandem with them. As per the theme of this years Customer Service week – Dream Team, everybody should be concerned and immersed in what the customers are saying and feeling.
“There are only two people in an organization. The one that directly serves the customer, and the one who serves that person who serves the customer.” Ms Atika said.
“You can therefore see that the end game is the customer. The inside of the business must understand what the customer is saying in order to serve them in the best way possible. If the person who is making the product, makes a bad product, they make it difficult for the person speaking directly to the customer. If they don’t make the processes properly internally, they don’t make the frontline any better.”
Customers now more than ever are enlightened and express themselves more freely. With the advent of social media, customers have a public touch point to express themselves as and when they’re unhappy it can impact behavior of other customers too. Therefore, businesses must act with speed to respond to those customers. They ought to be very authentic and honest in their responses to customers too.
“For me I think it is a good and faster way of improving internally and should not be something to worry about. Just be prepared to have visibility, be empathetic and respond authentically to customers.” Ms Atika added.
And with a diverse customer base comes the need to ensure there is diverse staff, which is across gender, minorities, disabilities, age. Everybody has a contribution to make and all they need is a chance. The customer care team currently has the highest number of staff with disabilities and Ms Atika says this has further enhanced the conversation on access.
“Persons living with disability are qualified people. We usually underestimate their capacity to deliver. They do not want a free ride into the organization. I believe everybody has a contribution to make and we build a very beautiful world when we involve everyone and not leave anybody behind. I’m very passionate about that.”
As Safaricom celebrates its 20th Anniversary, we look forward to seeing what changes will take place in how customers communicate and businesses evolve. Happy Birthday Safaricom!